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Islet Transplant

What is an islet transplant?

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​What are islet cells?

The pancreas is an organ that is behind your stomach. It is made up of groups of cells called islets. Islet cells make the right amount of insulin to keep your blood glucose (sugar) levels under control. If you have diabetes, these cells don’t make the right amount of insulin or any insulin at all.

What is an islet transplant?

An islet transplant removes islet cells from the pancreas of a person who has died, called a deceased donor. These cells are then mixed with a blood product and put into the liver of another person, called the recipient. The islet cells find a new home in the liver, form new blood vessels, and begin to make the amount of insulin the body needs.

The goal of an islet transplant is to have better control of your blood glucose levels and lower the chance of health problems related to diabetes.

In most cases, you may need more than one transplant.

An islet transplant can help improve your quality of life. Your transplant team will guide you along the way.

Is an islet transplant a cure for diabetes?

No. An islet transplant is not a cure for diabetes. While there may be periods of time when you do not need to take insulin, having an islet transplant does not guarantee this.

If you do need to take insulin after the procedure, the transplant can help control your blood glucose levels and prevent them from getting too low.

Who is an islet transplant for? Can I get an islet transplant?

Islet transplants benefit some people living with diabetes; however, they are not suitable for everyone. Islet transplants are offered to patients when all other ways to manage blood glucose have not worked.

You will benefit most from an islet transplant if you:

  • have had diabetes for more than 5 years
  • have dangerously low blood glucose levels or big swings in your blood glucose levels that cannot be managed
  • often have low blood glucose without warning

An islet transplant is not for everyone. You may not be able to have an islet transplant if you:

  • are living with cancer
  • have kidney failure
  • have had diabetes for less than 5 years
  • are under the age of 18

Who does islet transplants in Alberta?

The Islet Transplant Program in Edmonton provides islet transplants to eligible patients living with diabetes in Alberta.

If you live in another province, you can also apply for an islet transplant. If your referral is accepted by the program, you will need to get funding from the health authority in your province to proceed.

Current as of: January 20, 2022

Author: Transplant Services, Alberta Health Services